A Long Day

I probably shouldn’t be complaining about my long day — the people on Freedom Waves are having a much longer one. Today was probably the wettest day in Gaza I’ve experienced in the three weeks I’ve been here and definitely the coldest.  It started pouring rain a couple of hours ago and all we could talk about was the people on the flotilla, how the must be freezing in Ashdod at the moment after being drenched in the waterfall of Israeli water canons.

I stayed up later than I should have last night, following the latest developments of the boats on Twitter.  I eventually went to sleep, dreaming of tweets saying the boats were safe, that they hadn’t been stopped, that it was okay to keep sleeping.  When I awoke, it was off to the big welcome hosted by the Palestine Fishing and Marine Sport Association.  Israel hadn’t stopped the boats yet and people were daring to hope. Only 80 nautical miles away!  The president of the Association, Mahfouz, wanted to know the exact speed they were going so he could calculate the arrival time.  The speed of the boats wasn’t being tweeted.  And would they really arrive?

After the press conference we boarded a boat and sailed around the harbor singing Palestinian songs like Unadikum while people waved Palestinian flags and held up signs in Arabic and English.  (For photos check out palsolidarity.org shortly).  If you don’t know Unadikum, the lyrics can be found here.

The water was extremely choppy, even inside the harbor, so I can only imagine what it was like for those on the mini-flotilla attacked out on the high seas.  Needless to say, they never made it.  They feel very close — Ashdod is only about 20 miles from Gaza, but an illegal blockade divides us. Israel claims Gaza is no longer occupied. If that’s true, then why is it every time I look up,

Photo by Hama Waqum

I see their drones, when I go out to sea I see their warships, when I pick olives in the north I see their tanks and jeeps, and when I walk east I feel their bullets pass my ear?

Photo by Hama Waqum

Initial Reactions from Gaza on the new Freedom Flotilla

Coming back to port

Here in Gaza, people — especially the youth — are really excited about the new flotilla on its way from Turkey.

“I can’t wait to receive my brothers and sisters who share our suffering and who also experience Israel’s apartheid policies and aggression,” said 19-year-old Al-Azher University student Hussien Amody, upon hearing news that a Palestinian from Haifa was on board yesterday evening.   Hussein subsequently stayed up all night making signs and posters for today’s march  in Gaza demanding that the United the Nations and the international community protect the two small boats.

I rose early this morning and head to Gaza’s port to go out on the Oliva, a project run by CPS Gaza to monitor the Israel navy’s treatment of Palestinian fisherman.  I promptly told Salah, our Captain, the news:

“Two boats are coming from Turkey to Gaza right now,” I said, as our small white boat left port.

“Now?” he asked. “Yes right now. They will arrive in Gaza maybe tomorrow morning,” I said in Arabic. The “maybe” was for the morning– I didn’t know how to say “scheduled to arrive.”

Inshallah,” Godwilling, he said, and then asked where the boats were from and other details.  A tiny boat rowed by two young men balancing delicately on the edges passed by as the Mediterranean undulated below them. Salah shouted to them the news and they exchanged a brief conversation.

“I think the Israeli navy will stop them,” he said as continued out to sea. Indeed, that’s what the IDF spokesperson had declared on Twitter the night before.

Nonetheless, Salah yelled out to a passing yellow and blue trawler the news.  The trawler had eyes with long lashes and a smiley face painted on its wooden bow.  Palestinians on a similar trawler reported being shot at by the Israeli navy when I was out at sea yesterday.  We had heard the automatic gunfire as we were leaving port.  The Israelis have an elite navy and all the Palestinians have are their pink, blue and yellow smiley faced boats, I thought.

I shared with Salah that the boat was bringing Palestinians from outside Gaza, since that was something the youth here were particularly excited about.  A few them had mentioned that because of Israel’s complete closure of Gaza, they hadn’t been able to see their family members in the West Bank or leave Gaza for university in the West Bank or abroad.

Salah only shrugged and said “inshallah,” again, a word I had never heard him use in the past.  He was refusing to get his hopes up about something that, in his mind, Israel would clearly prevent from happening.  I tried to convince him that maybe this flotilla would be different.

“[Prime Minister] Erdogan has promised that the Turkish navy will accompany freedom boats to Gaza,” I said. “And the boats left from Turkey,” I added, attempting to convince Salah, and even myself.  Indeed the Canadian boat tweeted last night that they believed the Turkish Coast Guard was behind them.

Inshallah,” Salah replied.

Despite Israel’s declarations that it will stop the flotilla, Palestinian civil society groups and even the fisherman have a big welcome in store for Freedom Waves. Why is Israel trying so hard to keep 27 civilians from seeing what life is really like behind the blockade? What is Israel trying to hide?

Palestinian trawler with smiley face

Two New Freedom Boats on their Way to Gaza!

Two boats, the Canadian Tahrir (Liberation), and the Irish Saoirse (Freedom) have just left Fethiye, Turkey for Gaza!  Given Israel’s successful thwarting of the last flotilla, this one was top secret.  Those of us in Gaza in the know have been very excited about this new flotilla, which is carrying a Palestinian from Haifa in addition to civilians from nine countries.

Given Israel’s massacre on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, the question on all of our minds is: What will Israel do this time? Turkish PM Erdogan has pledged that the Turkish navy will escort future aid vessels. If Israel attacks the Turkish navy, every member of NATO under Article V of the NATO charter, will have to defend it.

So the question remains, will the United States fulfill its obligations under NATO, or will it continue to isolate itself from the world by coming to Israel’s defense?